Sport: The U.S. used to rule the women’s sports landscape, but with momentum stalled the rest of the world is catching up - - PressFrom - US
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SportThe U.S. used to rule the women’s sports landscape, but with momentum stalled the rest of the world is catching up

19:00  25 march  2019
19:00  25 march  2019 Source:   nydailynews.com

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The U.S. used to rule the women’s sports landscape, but with momentum stalled the rest of the world is catching up© Phelan M. Ebenhack

LONDON — Last month the SheBelieves Cup invitational women’s soccer tournament was held for the fourth time. The United States, which hosts the event, had won two out of the last three cups.

This year, it was all England.

Can you hear that? It’s the sound of the rest of the world catching up with the U.S. when it comes to women’s sports. The charge is being led here in the United Kingdom, where successful national teams in soccer, rugby and netball have galvanized national interest. As a result the media landscape here, which was characterized by one Brit as “lads, lads, lads,” is shifting to cover the women’s game.

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The U.S. used to rule the women’s sports landscape, but with momentum stalled the rest of the world is catching up© Mike Carlson / Associated Press

Last week The Telegraph hired veteran sports writer Anna Kessel to edit a new initiative on women’s sports. Several U.K. sports women, including tennis’s Judy Murray, will be contributors. And the timing couldn’t be better, with the Women’s World Cup on the horizon in France this June for a surging national team.

Does Kessel see a changing landscape?

“I do now,” Kessel said. “We’ve got a whole team of writers and a deputy editor dedicated to covering women’s sport. There’s a lot of budget and resource going into it so that’s great. But do I see other papers doing that? Not even close.”

Like the U.S., women are a minority of the bylines and women’s sports coverage is spotty, to be kind. In print coverage, the cursory look at newspaper bylines over the 18 months I lived in London rarely yielded more than one woman writing.

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On the broadcast side however, things couldn’t be more different. The BBC has women’s programming that includes a half-hour program devoted to women’s soccer. Sky Sports has a women’s sports show as well, and has put a full-court press on netball coverage. (Netball is akin to basketball, and is played by many former British commonwealth nations.)

The BBC, which is partially publicly-funded and thus has a mandate to provide programming that contributes to the community, will launch a new slate of programming in May that furthers women’s sports coverage.

“Over the last three years the BBC and Sky Sports have made a concerted effort to improve coverage of women’s sport,” said Kate Dale, the lead campaigner for This Girl Can, a Sport England initiative to get more women and girls active. “And Barclay’s announcement of support for the women’s football league was exciting.”

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Barclay’s will be the FA Women’s Super League’s title sponsor starting next year and the three-year deal is worth £10 million according to The Guardian. The BBC has already announced it will livestream significantly more WSL coverage. Right now, Manchester City, Arsenal and Chelsea are top three in the standings.

“They wouldn’t be doing this if they didn’t think it was a source of revenue or a point of difference,” Dale said. “I’ve been doing this for a long time and we’re always asking ‘Is this a tipping point, is this a tipping point?’ But this year feels like it could genuinely be a tipping point.”

Dale and the Women’s Sport Trust here have also campaigned for women to buy match tickets, saying that watching women’s sports is an easy act of feminism. Historically, women’s league soccer has struggled to find the same attendance that Women’s World Cup games enjoy.

The United States has had a head start on the U.K. and other Western European nations thanks to the passage of Title IX in 1972. It meant that the number of girls playing sports started to rise and, given the larger population in the U.S. and investment in training women for team sports, we’ve fielded dominant teams in soccer, basketball, gymnastics, softball and other sports.

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But with other nations making investments in their teams and the cultural normalization of women playing sports, that advantage won’t last forever. The U.S. women’s national team is on top of the rankings in FIFA’s standings, but Germany, France and England aren’t far behind.

The U.S. had a tremendous jump start, but seems to have taken it for granted. Look no further than USWNT jerseys, it wasn’t until this year that there was a custom kit for fans, and that kit is sold out on the web site and on back order. So here we are just two months away from the start of the Women’s World Cup and the fans have demanded well more jerseys than anticipated. How many dollars are left on the table, and won’t be counted toward the value of the American women’s game?

This is a championship team, consistently competitive on the world stage, that is literally suing the national governing body of soccer for equity in the game. And without the American team increasing international interest in women’s soccer, and providing a blueprint, perhaps the rest of the world wouldn’t make the investment to catch up.

Once, the U.S. could count on dominating in women’s sports, but that is no longer something to take for granted. The U.K. and other nations are starting to see women’s sports as a point of pride, and it’s moving those sports onto a larger platform.

“I want little girls who are talented and good and interested in sport to get all the rewards that the men do,” Dale said. “It’s about gender equality.”

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